EmptySundance Film Festival
PARK CITY -- Things go from bad to worse for the beleaguered characters in filmmaker Tom Hines' astute directorial debut. With biting humor and refreshing humanism, Hines takes a cold-eyed look at credible individuals struggling with addiction and dysfunction. "Chronic Town" visibly embodies the spirit of independent filmmaking that Sundance has championed for more than two decades, suggesting that a skillful distributor could creatively craft an appropriate arthouse niche for the film.
On a stinging subzero winter night in Fairbanks, Alaska, antisocial taxi driver Truman Korovin's (J.R. Bourne) girlfriend dumps him because he's habitually hostile and toxically self-absorbed, not to mention his addictive issues with alcohol, pot and just about any drug that enters his erratic orbit.
Conspiring with his best friend and partner in inebriation Faraday (Jeffrey Scott Jensen) to erase her affront, Truman swallows a dose of LSD at his favorite local bar, ending up half naked in a snow bank after slitting his wrists, a stunt that lands him in a mental facility later that night.
Managed care turns out to be kinder than expected to Truman, whose confrontational attitude gets somewhat blunted in group therapy, where he meets stripper Eleanor (Emily Wagner), a sexual abuse victim, along with several other emotionally damaged inpatients. As part of his therapy, Truman agrees to spend time visiting seniors at a nearby retirement home, befriending Elizabeth (Alice Drummond), a pleasant, slightly delusional woman with a buried past.
Once released, Truman and Eleanor begin dating -- against her better judgment -- and develop a sweetly dysfunctional relationship that seems to work on their own unique terms. But Eleanor's past is quickly catching up with them, threatening to ricochet Truman back to his chronically abusive behavior after a brief flirtation with passing normality.
Hines and screenwriter Michael Kamsky succeed against significant odds in creating realistic, sympathetic characters with rich, if traumatized, inner lives. To their credit, the filmmakers don't attempt to explain away Truman's profoundly troubled personality, instead leveraging his afflictions to create believably fraught personality conflicts.
J.R. Bourne delivers a bold, brave performance that progressively reveals Truman as a desperate, needy character whose inability to effectively communicate inexorably leads to self-delusion and substance abuse. Wagner's Eleanor is another convincingly rendered lost soul who finds marginal comfort in Truman's company. Supporting cast members adroitly keep developments focused on this unlikely pair while infusing the film with markedly restrained humor.
Hines and his production team took a significant gamble shooting in wintertime Fairbanks and their fearlessness particularly pays off with sharply delineated digital cinematography that enhances the stark, snowy exterior scenes, vividly lensed by cinematographer Yiannis Samaras.
Grey Jumper Prods.
Director: Tom Hines
Writer: Michael Kamsky
Producers: Lauri LaBeau, David Scharf
Executive producers: Michael Peterson, Tim Farley
Director of photography: Yiannis Samaras
Music: Ryan Raddatz
Costume designer: Wendy Willis
Editor: Clay Zimmerman
Truman: J.R. Bourne
Eleanor: Emily Wagner
Faraday: Jeffrey Scott Jensen
Elizabeth: Alice Drummond
Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating